Yes and no. The answer to the question “What do you do?” should not really be this complicated, but it is for me. Yes, I am a librarian. No, I do not work in a library. This is usually when I get a blank look from whoever I am speaking to, and I start trying to explain: I’m a staff librarian at a book company. I’m one of the people, there are several of us, who help the real (more straightforward) librarians decide what books to buy.
A colleague of mine wrote about this very situation. He said,
“Here’s the thing. I don’t work at a library. Or maybe put in another way . . . I work at thousands of libraries. I work for a vendor that sells materials and services to school libraries across the country. My exact title is collection development specialist, and my primary task is to assist schools in finding the newest and best resources for their classrooms and media centers. In essence, I shop for books all day with other people’s money. Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet gig.”
Unlike my colleague, though, who says “But in my heart of hearts I know I’m not really a librarian,“ I argue that I am a librarian, and that the work that I do isn’t that far removed from what I did when I was in a public library. It’s just a lot more specific.
In a library, I worked at a reference desk where I answered questions from library patrons about books or about whatever else they wanted to know. There’s no reference desk at a book company, but the librarians in my department are to go-to people for anything book or library related. I still spend a good portion of my work days answering questions, helping people, and finding information. Just like a librarian.
The biggest part of my job is book promotion and collection development, just like it was when I was in a public library. I review and evaluate books. I look for ways to connect them to readers or classrooms. I might not be making displays or bulletin boards like I used to, but I am making book lists of all sorts for the librarians I speak with to use in their libraries. As in the quote above, my primary task is helping librarian shop for books. He’s right about one thing: it is a pretty sweet gig.
That all said, there’s a lot I miss about working in a library. I definitely miss working with kids directly. One day I’d like to get back to that, and meanwhile I still look for opportunities to connect with young people whenever I can. But the biggest thing I miss is the ease with which I could answer the question “What do you do?”
I do, however, answer the question “Are you really a librarian?” with a yes. Even if it does require a bit of explanation. ;)